RIAA gets $115 million from Sharman Networks, Ltd.

(via boingboing)

Ending a years-long legal battle, the recording industry has settled with Sharman Networks, Ltd., operator of popular Kazaa peer-to-peer software.  Naturally, my first question is “How much of that money is going to the artists that the RIAA told us they were suing to protect?”

Record labels and movie studios won their long fight against one of the most notorious networks for online piracy Thursday, but the deal is unlikely to slow the worldwide trade in bootlegged songs, movies and television shows.

The entertainment industry’s settlement with the operator of Kazaa was hailed as a milestone because it ends an era in which backers of file-sharing networks could make millions of dollars a month luring people to their services with pirated goods.

. . .

Online piracy, meanwhile, continues.

“I don’t think anything has been accomplished here,” said Michael Goodman, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston. “From a legal perspective, this is a yawner. They won the battle, but the battlefront moved on about three years ago. That’s the problem with court systems. Technology and markets move way faster than courts can typically keep up with them. By the time you win that battle, who cares?”

Kazaa once accounted for nearly half of all online file-sharing, but its popularity has plummeted in the five years since its owners were sued for encouraging piracy.

. . .

Under the terms of the settlement, Kazaa will introduce filtering technologies to ensure that users can no longer share copyrighted music, film or software files. Sharman has paid $115 million to the recording industry, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. Studios received a separate undisclosed sum, reported to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Sharman Networks issued a statement, saying the agreement cleared the way for Kazaa to offer licensed content.

“The settlement marks the dawn of a new age of cooperation between peer-to-peer technology and content industries which will promise an exciting future for online distribution in general and Kazaa users in particular,” said Nikki Hemming, chief executive of Sharman Networks.

Here’s what that all means

  • Sharman Networks, Ltd. promises to stop people from sharing coprighted material on the Kazaa network (impossible, by the way)
  • The recording industry get $115 to pay lawyers to continue going after music fans who like to hear music before buying (which we all know is illegal, but hard to stop in this age of 98% crap music)
  • Sharman Networks, Ltd. has aspirations to fail in the legal music download business the same way Napster has (with the extra burden of competing against Apple and iTunes)
  • The recording industry and Sharman Networks management types tell people that a new age in licensed digital music distribution is upon us (the same new age that has successfully been built up and practically controlled by the iTunes marketplace)

So we’ll see what happens from here.  Somehow, I doubt anyone on the consumer end will notice.

[tags]RIAA, Kazaa, Sharman Networks, Recording industry, Peer-to-peer[/tags]

OpenDNS – trying to improve your surfing experience

A recent ArsTechnica article provides more details and insight into the OpenDNS project which we have recently mentioned here.  Jeremy starts the article by noting that DNS isn’t something he (nor most other surfers) even thinks much about.

Thus, the announcement of a new, free DNS replacement service took me somewhat by surprise. Why would I want to change my DNS provider? What would I gain by doing such a thing? And more importantly, what was the catch?

According to David Ulevitch, founder of OpenDNS, the experience he gained starting and running EveryDNS (a free DNS service for web site hosts) taught him a lesson about the state of DNS services in general and the increasing problem of spam, phishing scams, and botnets. He noticed that nefarious groups were using EveryDNS as a vector to perpetuate these sorts of attacks. He added code to EveryDNS that would search for and deny these attempts, and shared information about the perpetrators with other DNS services. While he noticed the attacks no longer targeted his system, they simply moved elsewhere to find easier targets.

His idea was to attack the problem from the other end. Instead of trying to fix every web hosting DNS service, he thought about providing a DNS service for end users.

. . .

To attract people to this new service, Ulevitch promises that it will speed up DNS resolution, making for a faster web browsing experience. If that wasn’t enough, the service is designed to catch common typos, delivering the URL you want rather than the one you typed, and putting an end to sites that try and deceive users by typo-squatting.

So how well does it work? The answer depends very much on your current service provider. I’ve never had to spend much time waiting for DNS resolution, mostly because my provider, Shaw, keeps a very large cache of DNS addresses on a high-speed server. However, this can have its drawbacks when sites shift IPs too often and the cache isn’t updated quickly enough.

So, is OpenDNS something worth using?  Well, Chris Pirillo seems to think so.  Jeremy, the author of the above-quoted ArsTechnica article has this to say:

Is the site useful or not? With phishing filters coming in IE 7 and Firefox 2.0, it may be a solution looking for a problem. Still, it’s nice to have a backup option in case your ISP’s DNS services flare out temporarily. The one really nice thing about the service is that it requires no software installation (merely setting your DNS settings for your network connection) and if you decide you don’t like it, it’s trivial to change back to your ISP’s DNS service. Having a no-hassle “opt-out” clause is definitely a good thing to have with any new service you wish to try out.

[tags]OpenDNS, Faster surfing[/tags]

Popcorn workers’ lung

While visiting Mental Floss, I read about the public health blog Effect Measure. Since I’m a big geeky science-loving dork, I started reading Effect Measure. Today, I read one of the more interesting science stories I’d seen lately and just had to pass it on.

The article in question, title Popcorn worker’s lung, is about a recently identified disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans. The first cases identified by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) were back in 1999, although there is evidence some popcorn manufacturers knew of the health problem as early as 1993. As the disease name suggests, this is a problem seen in workers from microwave popcorn manufacturing facilities.

You’ve probably never heard of bronchiolitis obliterans and you certainly don’t want to have it. The name tells the story. The bronchioles are the smaller airway tubes that transport oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the portions of your lungs where the gases are exchanged in the blood. If you obliterate those small tubes, well, you figure it out. The condition is debilitating and sometimes fatal. As I said, you don’t want it.

Want it or not, that’s the fate of dozens of workers in factories that make manufacture microwave popcorn or the artificial butter flavor that goes into the popcorn. One has already died and several are on lists awaiting lung transplants. This is a newly discovered condition in some ways — we’ve known about it for a little more than five years (see this NIOSH Alert; .pdf)– but in other ways we’ve known about it for too long without doing anything about it. Anything like what? Like OSHA issuing recommendations or protections to safeguard workers. OSHA has in fact done almost nothing.

. . .

OSHA’s response was perfunctory. NIOSH took it more seriously (NIOSH is the chronically underfunded occupational health federal research agency as opposed to OSHA, which is the regulatory agency). They quickly identified high levels of diacetyl in the plant and found high rates of chronic cough, shortness of breath, asthma or chronic bronchitis, compared to the general population. Pulmonary function tests verified the existence of some kind of respiratory risk in the workforce. NIOSH issued interim recommendations and advised the workers to wear respirators because the actions taken by the company were not sufficient to protect them.

. . .

In contrast to the NIOSH scientists’ efforts to identify the hazard and the prevalence of disease, OSHA’s response has been trivial. When faced with a hazard for which no standard has been set, OSHA has the authority to issue an emergency temporary standard or to invoke the “general duty clause” and require employers to reduce or eliminate clear hazards. OSHA selected neither of these options. Despite significant “bodies in the morgue” evidence, OSHA maintains that “a cause-effect relationship between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans has not been established, as food-processing workers with this lung disease were also exposed to other flavoring agents.”

. . .

If you don’t work in a popcorn factory you may be tempted to shake your head about the lack of care for worker health and go on about your business. There is a lot of bad stuff in the world today and this is another example. But there is suspicion the problem is wider than just “popcorn workers’ lung,” as the condition is coming to be called. Many other food industry workers may also be at risk because diacetyl is used to make artifical flavors in candy, pastries, frozen foods and pet foods. More and more cases are being identified now that there is recognition of the problem. The big question is whether it is just diacetyl or other ingredients are involved. Of over 1000 flavoring ingredients used in food manufacture thought to represent a respiratory hazard , NIOSH has established recommended limits and OSHA permissible limits in a total of only 46. Whether there is a hazard when you make microwave popcorn at home is unknown.

That’s a majority of the article, but there are some important sections I’ve left out.  It ends by noting that people affected by this new disease have gone the route of suing.  While I rarely feel is the right response, I think in this case, lawsuits are going to be necessary to get prompt action on protecting workers.  Go visit Effect Measure for the full story.  And be careful when you make microwave popcorn now, just in case.
[tags]Popcorn workers’ lung, OSHA, NIOSH, Food industry, Microwave popcorn[/tags]

Earth science picture of the day

Selected for display here by me just because I thought it looked good. The earth science picture of the day for July 27, 2006.

On Friday, April 7, the sky was exceptionally clear here in Bretagne, France, and I decided to go the beach to look for sunspots at sunset. But the sky was so VERY clear and the Sun so bright that I was unable to view the Sun’s surfa


ce. There was a show, though, atop the Sun, where several green and even blue flashes were visible. These “flashes” were extremely ephemeral and would appear and disappear in less than 1/3 second! Finally, when the Sun disappeared below the horizon, I caught this nice green flash. On my links (below), you can see additional pictures of this event.

Photo details: DSLR Canon 350D on Megrez 80/480 refractor,. 100 ASA, 1/4000 sec.

I took out the links the original photographer had to his page and just put it there in the quote. Check out some of the other good pictures he has there.

[tags]Earth science picture of the day, POTD, Sun halo[/tags]

Be an expert on anything

This recent Wired.com article is a guide from (Dr.) Stephen Colbert on how to be an expert on anything.  Mainly, the way to be recognized as an expert is to assert that you are an expert.  Here’s a few tips.

PICK A FIELD THAT CAN’T BE VERIFIED. Try something like string theory or God’s will: “I speak to God. I’m sorry that you can’t also.” Security experts are in this category: They have security clearances, we don’t. We can’t question the expertise of the NSA because we are not in the NSA.

I’ve worked in security.  So I have a leg up on most folks, I guess.

CHOOSE A SUBJECT THAT’S ACTUALLY SECRET. Dan Brown invented a secret subject for The Da Vinci Code, so now he is forever an expert on this secret subject that no one can challenge. Anybody who attacks the secret subject is, by definition, part of the cabal.

Even better.  I’m not sure what I can pick, but I’ll make a note here when I choose my secret specialty.

SPEAK FROM THE BALLS, NOT FROM THE DIAPHRAGM. In the expert game, you’ve got to have sack. That means speaking with confidence. In America, you’ve got to steer clear of nuance and ambivalence – and don’t even contemplate doubt.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE THINGS UP. Never fear being exposed as a fraud. Experts make things up all the time. They’re qualified to.

There are more tips in the article.  So go learn how to be an expert.

[tags]Be an expert on anything, Stephen Colbert[/tags]

Our recent word of the day put to use

This Mental Floss article garnered from this Reuters report puts our recent word of the day to excellent use:

In one of the happier stories that I’ve read today, Reuters is reporting that a Polish man unintentionally saved a 110 lb. Saint Bernard who had been thrown out of a two-story window when he walked underneath it. The man, who was definitely caught off-guard (it’s hard to prepare for that sort of thing), suffered some bruises, and a little psychological shock from the incident. As for the dog, who’d been defenestrated from said window by a drunken owner, he seems to have escaped with nary a scratch (human cushioning will do that for you)! Thankfully, he’s been placed in a shelter and is destined for a happier existence.

Did you find out word of the day in there?  Keep looking if you haven’t.  There might be a quiz tomorrow.

[tags]Mental Floss, Defenestration, Word of the day[/tags]

Boring, boring, boring, OMGWTF??!?!?!

While reading BluesNews this morning, I came across a couple of daily media links he had.  I hit the first one, called “Merry Go Round of Terror” and started watching the video.  It’s about a minute long, and honestly, while watching it, I kept thinking “Blue, why did you waste my time with this?”  That said, go watch it now, think the same thing, and then in the last 4 seconds of the video you’ll probably be like me and go “OMGWTF?!?!?!?” or something like that.

[tags]Daily Media, Videos, Merry Go Round of Terror, OMGWTF??!?!?![/tags]

Why is the sky blue?

(via MentalFloss)

Turns out, it isn’t.  That’s the short answer.  The long answer is interesting – it’s violet, but our daylight vision is such that it is seen as blue.

Why is the sky blue? It is a question children ask. Yet it also intrigued Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton, among many other legendary thinkers. As late as 1862, the great astronomer John Herschel called the colour and polarization of skylight “great standing enigmas.” Even today, our perception of sky blue is little understood by laymen.

. . .

In 1873, James Clerk Maxwell realized the truth: The scattering substance must be the molecules of air themselves, none other. Indeed, John Ruskin suggested in 1869 that sky blue comes from light “reflected from the divided air itself.” Lord Rayleigh followed Maxwell’s advice and calculated that the observed scattering of skylight requires molecules whose size accords with that indicated by other physical arguments.

. . .

As you gaze at the clear blue sky, then, you are beholding unambiguous evidence that atoms really exist, something that was widely questioned as recently as the 19th century. This presents a profound but simple answer to our opening question about the sky’s colour. But even so, further explanation is required.

If Tyndall and Rayleigh are right, then the violet wavelengths from the sun, having still shorter wavelengths than blue, should be scattered even more. Given this, shouldn’t the sky be violet, not blue?

Indeed the sky is violet, if you observe not with the naked eye but with an instrument that objectively measures the intensity of the spectrum at different wavelengths. Such a device, a spectrophotometer, shows that, in fact, the highest peak of the intensity of skylight occurs in the violet range.

But why do we see blue, nonetheless? The resolution of the mystery lies in our daytime vision, which happens to be eight times less sensitive to violet than to blue light.

Does that mean it is “incorrect” to call the sky blue? Not really. Our names for colors reflect our common perception, whatever a mechanical instrument might say.

There you have it.  The sky is violet.  But we still call it blue.  Our eyes don’t see violet as well as blue, and the higher intensity of violet is not sufficient to overcome our innate sensitivity to blue.  That means more blue is registered by the cones in our eyes, so our brain just gives us what it has more of to work with.

[tags]Why is the sky blue, Eye color sensitivity[/tags]